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IT salaries take tiny leaps

There's more work and less bonus money, and salaries aren't keeping pace with inflation. Here's how some IT professionals are coping.

By Thomas Hoffman
November 10, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Walter Scott may not be your typical IT professional. But the circumstances around his current compensation have become all too familiar.

Scott, a 20-year IT veteran, is a solutions architect at Verizon Business in East Meadow, N.Y., where he helps devise IP telephony systems for the company's commercial customers. Scott says he has helped land a few prominent deals since joining Verizon two years ago, including a $30 million contract with a health care customer in 2007.

But despite his contributions, Scott received a paltry 1.78% salary increase in February, and his bosses had to fight for that amount. Verizon's human resources department felt Scott was still learning his position and deserved a smaller raise, he says. Eventually, the HR managers caved in to the pleas of his supervisors, who argued for a bigger, though still minuscule, salary bump.

Like just about everyone else these days, Scott has had to adjust his personal spending in the face of surging cost-of-living increases, including escalating energy costs. After recently paying off their credit card balances, Scott and his wife scaled back their cable TV service and trimmed other extras.

"I've had to do a real drill-down on my budget and make adjustments and still save for retirement," says Scott.

Yet despite his need for financial conservatism, Scott says he's otherwise satisfied in his job. "It's a pretty good gig," he says. "There's no micromanaging. You manage your own schedule, and I get the opportunity to work remotely when I'm not out in the field."

Scott's situation is a snapshot of what's happening to many other IT professionals around the U.S. as employers are pulling in the reins on salaries. According to Computerworld's 22nd annual Salary Survey, based on responses from 6,801 U.S. IT workers, total compensation (salary plus bonus) rose an average of just 3.5% this past year, reflecting little change over the 3.7% average increase reported in 2007. Meanwhile, bonuses for IT professionals rose by an average of only 0.2% in 2008, compared with 3.4% in 2007.

"I think IT professionals have reluctantly accepted that the days of special treatment for IT -- which did endure for nearly a decade -- are gone," says David Van De Voort, an IT workforce specialist at Mercer in Chicago. (Read more about the changing IT profession.)

Certainly, the go-go days of the late 1990s -- when Web developers and other IT professionals with hot skills were lavished with signing bonuses and other goodies -- are a distant memory, says David Weldon, a former workforce analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. who is currently with Wellesley Information Services. The best advice for IT workers who have been stuck at a certain pay level is to try to tie their own performance to the company's bottom line or draw a connection between how their work has helped the company to improve its productivity or operational efficiency, says Weldon.

And while IT salaries should see a lift once the economy improves, individual increases will largely hinge on the types of process and technical skills that businesses require, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology and a Computerworld.com columnist. "Technology is all about need vs. want and ROI," she says.

For instance, Lee expects to see continued demand for IT professionals with business intelligence skills who can help design and develop dashboards that senior managers use to track sales and expenses more closely.



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